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« David Walsh: Compulsory British History at GCSE | Main | Mike Christie: All secondary schools to become directly state-funded but independent trust schools »

Comments

Gildas

Sadly, the education section of the 100 Policies seems to be a act of revisionism for the 1980s and 1990s Conservative Party. They introduced the National Curriculum, SATS, Double Award Science, PSE, Key Stages and many of the other things that have been attacked this week. It's clearly not only the left that enjoys re-writing British History.

Was it Keynes who said 'When I'm wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?'

Single science is not the same as double science. Single science is taken only by the very weakest students and is worth only one GCSE. Double science (which is pretty universal) is the equivalent of two GCSEs and covers all three science subjects.

Sorry, when I said 'single science' I meant the double award. I just avoided the fad for merging the subjects. Not sure about the Biology being easy argument though - I got a better grade in Physics and Chemistry than I did in Biology.

Richard

"But, secondly because this is not about making a subject compulsory, but about doing away with a phoney worthless subject (combined science)."

What if parents and pupils want this subject to be available.

"My belief is very simple: pupils should have the choice to do physics, chemistry, biology or joint science."

In theory this is fine but in practice it might be that some schools don't have the wherewithall to do it. This might explain why double science tends to be the favoured option of most schools.

Michael McGowan

Mark Fulford, perfectly put!

Denis Cooper

The National Curriculum etc only became necessary because an education system which sort of worked had been wrecked in the name of reform and improvement, starting in the sixties. It still hasn't recovered, and nor will it if it's left just to teachers and parents. Especially with many of today's teachers and parents, who are themselves the products of a degraded education system and have never known anything better. Until that long term damage has been reversed so that there's a generation of well-educated parents interacting constructively with well-trained teachers, rather than smacking them in the face for telling their children off (totally unheard of when I was at school), it would be wrong for the government to adopt a more hands-off approach on basic requirements. Not on making sure that every kiddie has five pieces of fruit each day, or on every other nit-picking detail, but on basic requirements. I realise that it was government which wrecked the system in the first place, but we start from where we are, not from where we might like to be.

Tony Emmerson

Dear All,

Thank you for your responses. It is reassuring to know that so many people have so little work to do in the morning.

First of all a clarification. I am advocating the teaching of all three sciences at GCSE level on a compulsory basis. This is currently what we have, although the content needs to be improved. What I am rejecting is the recently postulated pick and mix idea that pupils should be allowed to just select one or two of the disciplines. I will give my reason for this is a moment.

The concept of "Single Science" can also exist as a low-demand "General Science" GCSE. This is a prattish idea, but like many prattish ideas (Communism, the Kennedy family, rock music written after 1977) it has its advocates. I will refer to it no further.

My argument for keeping the subjects compulsory is twofold. Firstly, at the tender age of 13 when most pupils make their GCSE options, children are pretty clueless. They like things like baseball caps, white cider, getting pregnant, and rock music written after 1977. Things they don't like include Chemistry, Physics, and hard work. Their options should be limited. The idea that a subject could be good for their intellectual development is not uppermost in their MySpace-addled brains.

Secondly, the love for many subjects can come in the later years of study. I have pupils who used to hate Chemistry but thanks to my great charisma and tendency to start small fires now wish to pursue it at A Level. Just because you hate something at 13 doesn't mean that you will hate it at 16.

As a libertarian I can see the argument against prescribing what a child must learn. However my libertarianism starts at the age of 16. After that age you can do what you want to do and go hang if it goes wrong. But without providing a decent practical education we can not expect people to be adequately equipped for decision making.

Also we must not bend the syllabus to amuse the pupils. The revisions to GCSE to make it more "relevant" have ripped the academic rigour out of it. We must reinforce that even if something is not immediately fun there are still good reasons for doing it. Similarly, just because your aptitude for a discipline might not be immediately there it does not mean that there is no benefit in trying.

We must restore the balance in favour of better education, and that may not equate to better grades for all. Tough. You want it, you work for it.

It is true that there are some awful teachers out there and, to be honest, they need firing. The difference between the quality of teaching in the State and Independent sectors can be staggering. I have seen both sides. I've also seen poor teachers in Independent schools get the boot. Short of having sex with a kid it is nearly impossible to get fired from the State sector. And even that doesn't always work.

To the comments about revisionism I would only say this. When you're in a hole stop digging. The last 30 years have seen a succession of dumb ideas from both parties. It is not that the clock needs turning back, more that the toilet needs flushing.

To summarise, for those of you who have got this far. I want: i) all three sciences, ii) Double or Triple Award, iii) more rigour, iv) kids to shut up and learn stuff v) more good rock music.

Paul Kennedy

My eldest son opted for the three sciences last year, although because places were very limited all those who wanted to take that option, of which there were quite a number, had to take a test and the best were accepted. I think it will stand him in good stead if he chooses to go to University, particularly one of the best ones as I understand they regard the three option as more academically rigorous. I'm glad to say he is enjoying the subjects and by all accounts doing very well although the truth will be revealed next Summer. ;)

Good policy to support.

Cardinal Pirelli

Thanks Tony, that changes things slightly. I had thought that you wanted everyone to study three sciences to GCSE (which would obviously reduce choice). If it's just making the option of three available then I can't see much wrong with that. We keep what exists and just increase the choice available.

Regarding the subject of different pay rates, independent schools seem to be fine without that sort of variation and, quite frankly, given how poor some science teachers are, I wouldn't want to reward them like that. Thinking that it would magically increase the number of science teachers is wide of the mark I feel, it hasn't worked with something similar regarding teacher training for example.

Using the skills of those in scientific industries within the classroom is a much better way forward I feel (a concept which would benefit many subjects).

Tony Emmerson

Cardinal - I am advocating all three sciences to GCSE, as we currently do at the moment. What is not necessary is to have the "Triple Award" which takes up more time and curriculum space, although it is a good option for more able pupils if a school can offer it.

"Dual Award" teaches and examines all three sciences at GCSE level, but at slightly less depth. However, if this course is taught by specialist teachers and it has a decent syllabus this can provide effective preparation for A-Level. Not perfect, but effective.

What I am against is the dropping of any sciences. The three-science "Dual Award" (with a reworked and less lousy curriculum) is our minimum standard of science education.

Mike Christie

"I had thought that you wanted everyone to study three sciences to GCSE (which would obviously reduce choice)"

Doesn't he? or am I misunderstanding?

"I am advocating the teaching of all three sciences at GCSE level on a compulsory basis"

Personally, at 13/14 I loved Physics, knew what subjects were most likely to be of benefit in the career I wanted to pursue at that time and chose not to study Biology. If we have more rigour in our exams surely that means that pupils will no longer be able to do the 11 or 12 GCSEs which seems to be fairly normal now and go back to the 9 that was common when I was at school.

If we mandate 3 sciences, history, maths and English (and I'd wager we'd get an good show of hands for mandating a foreign language too, and I bet compulsory IT would get a few votes too...), as we seem to advocate here it doesn't leave a whole lot of scope for choice does it?

Cardinal Pirelli

""I had thought that you wanted everyone to study three sciences to GCSE (which would obviously reduce choice)"

Doesn't he? or am I misunderstanding?"

Mike - Should have been clearer, I was asking about 'three separate sciences to GCSE' (i.e. expanding the current double science to compulsory triple science). I now understand that this is not the intention.

On the subject of number of GCSEs, it appears to be state schools that enter students for the larger amount, clearly in the hope that it will improve league table positions. I'm not sure that more than nine is in anyway beneficial, just a dilution of each subject. As such, the more that we compel, the likelier that students take too many subjects with less rigour (still annoyed that compulsion for British history got passed as it will add to this problem!)

Mike Christie

Tony has clarified his idea somewhat, and I'm still dead set against it.

I've lived a happy life as a well-adjusted productive member of society with no ill-effects despite the fact I chose not to continue studying Biology at the age of 14. I have friends who are equally well adjusted, who due to a complete lack of interest in science chose to study french, german, history, geography and the like.

At the risk of causing offence, the author of this policy is a science teacher, and as someone who works in a school in a non-teaching role, I find that most teachers think that their subject is the most important on the curriculum and should be given a much higher priority. If Britain needs more chemists we won't get them by forcing budding linguists, economists, historians or musicians to study a subject which holds no interest to them. If a pupil can't be enthused in years 7 8 and 9, why should they suddenly grow to love a subject when they are under the pressure of coursework and exams at years 10 and 11. The way to get more pupils to take science GCSEs is to inspire them in Key Stage 3, not to march them willing or not into GCSE science lessons.

Let teachers teach pupils who actually want to learn the subjects they are taking!

Adrian Owens

Oh dear can I change my vote? I am against science (whether single or separate) being compulsory. This was very unclear in Tony's piece.

I voted no to compulsory history yesterday, so I'm being consistent, I hope.

Editor, I'll now be voting No twice to effectively reverse my earlier yes vote.

Richard

"My argument for keeping the subjects compulsory is twofold. Firstly, at the tender age of 13 when most pupils make their GCSE options, children are pretty clueless. They like things like baseball caps, white cider, getting pregnant, and rock music written after 1977. Things they don't like include Chemistry, Physics, and hard work. Their options should be limited. The idea that a subject could be good for their intellectual development is not uppermost in their MySpace-addled brains."

Firstly, 80s rock music was far superior to anything the 1970s could come up with. Unless you count Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath as rock. They could give the 80s a run for their money.

Secondly, at the age of 14 I never wore a baseball cap, I never drank alcohol and I never impregnated anyone. And at that age I wasn't into rock music. In fact, barely anybody in my school (yes, this was a state school) did any of the things you allude to. Not to mention the fact that our parents had in input into what options we chose. My parents suggested I did history instead of business studies and I'm now glad that I did, having studied history at university.

Thirdly, if children want to take easy subjects, why not let them? If it messes up their future career they have only themselves to blame. If it doesn't then it goes to show they didn't lose out. Personally I did quite well at science and would probably have chosen sciences if given the option but that doesn't mean I want my choices inflicted on everyone else.

In short, I don't see why we should all have our subjects decided for of us just because of a minority of dossers who can't be bothered to educate themselves. Leave us alone and let us take responsibility for ourselves (and let our parents taken responsibility for us too).

Now I shall go and get changed for work.

Richard

Sorry, I meant age of 13. But I think I was 14 when choosing GCSE subjects.

Mike Christie

Tony, in the 80s when I chose my GCSE subjects, no-one batted an eyelid at me wanting to do two of the three sciences, I was far from uncommon in doing so. I don't know what you mean by "recently postulated pick and mix idea that pupils should be allowed to just select one or two of the disciplines."

People who chose all three sciences were looked on as being a little odd as that limited their options in other curriculum areas such as the humanities or languages.

Melissa Bean

This probably sounds rather elitist of me (especially as I happen to have a Masters degree in Physics!), but I think that the effect of merging the science subjects together has been detrimental to our nation's budding scientists in two ways:

1. Giving pupils no choice over which science subjects they study at GCSE means that they are invariably stuck with something that they don't like. Very different aptitudes are required for biology and chemistry and physics: giving pupils a choice of studying only two of the three would recognise those differences. I was always fine at Physics (and Chemistry, a subject my Physics tutor attested was merely a branch of Physics), but had little care for biology.

2. Ergo, making EVERYONE study physics up to age 16, means that the subject inevitably gets "dumbed down". This is a shame for those of us who really love the subject, and want to push harder. I have seen old Physics O-Level papers: they are comparable to the papers I sat at A-Level.


This sort of thinking is exactly what we need if we want to create another generation of Maxwells, Newtons, and Boyles.

Mike Christie

Melissa, many schools still offer seperate GCSEs in the sciences for those pupils who wish to do them.

Forcing pupils to study subjects that they neither like, nor are good at, will do no-one any good in the long run.

Melissa Bean

"My argument for keeping the subjects compulsory is twofold. Firstly, at the tender age of 13 when most pupils make their GCSE options, children are pretty clueless. They like things like baseball caps, white cider, getting pregnant, and rock music written after 1977. Things they don't like include Chemistry, Physics, and hard work. Their options should be limited. The idea that a subject could be good for their intellectual development is not uppermost in their MySpace-addled brains."


Conversely, I would argue that by asking pupils to make such a decision, this implies a certain amount of responsibility on their part to make good decisions. I have always found that giving people more responsibility makes them more responsible people. I use this frequently as a management tool at work, and it rarely fails.

Melissa Bean

"Melissa, many schools still offer seperate GCSEs in the sciences for those pupils who wish to do them.

Forcing pupils to study subjects that they neither like, nor are good at, will do no-one any good in the long run"

Hi Mike, I think you misunderstood my post - I think that allowing pupils to pick two (or three) science subjects is a good idea.

Melissa

Tony Emmerson

Mike - by recently postulated I was referring to DW's recent words to the Times. It would be, in my humble opinion, a retrograde step, and not one of the good ones either.

Mark Fulford

Sorry Tony. I can't agree with the compulsion bit.

It is criminal to take a child’s mind and completely turn it against school and learning by flogging it against subjects that don’t suit. You can have my children from 11 to 14 and, in that time, and if I haven’t already succeeded, I truly hope that you can ignite within them an interest in science. But after three years you’ll have had a fair chance and have to accept the outcome. You also have to accept that any decision to force my children to do three sciences is mine, not yours. Trust me, I am more qualified and entitled than you to make decisions for my children.

Tony Emmerson

Melissa,

I hope the people you allow responsibility to at work have a better view of the big picture than 13 year olds. Admittedly this can not be taken as read, but it can be optimistically assumed.

Mark,

Just to clarify, does this mean that you oppose the three-science complusion that currently exists?

80s YC

There's no such thing as "joint science" outside the bizarre world of ever-easier school exams. What can a school syllabus about cell biology have in common with mechanics? The *choice* which parents should be offered for their children is for them to be able to study any and all of the scientific disciplines properly. It is no *choice* to offer people who either don't want to, or are not able to, cope with the rigours of a scientific discipline some dumb-downed mishmash course in this n' that n' nick n' knack n' stuff. That's what those programmes at half eight on Radio 4 are for ... or Tomorrow's World (what happened to Tomorrow's World?).

Incidentally someone said it's not possible to study three sciences and history ... it certainly is - or at least it was in Scotland in the 1980s - a typical O grade syllabus (3rd and 4th year of secondary education) would be maths, arithmetic, physics, chemistry, biology, english and two of french/history/geography/latin - these were my ayrshire choices at a "bog standard" comprehensive. Obviously if your final school exam is at the A level (one or two years older than in Scotland, which ended at Highers - 5 subjects typically) then you can't study more than three subjects ... but it's not true that a curriculum requires you to specialise before 16.

80s YC

Incidentally someone made a derogatory remark about science teachers above. FWIW I was blessed with more than a smattering of brilliant people. And a good friend has recently left university academia and trained and become a physics teacher. She is horrified with "joint science" and has told me - this I find hard to believe - that you can now do A level Physics without maths. For the life of me I can't begin to understand how that's possible, but I bet it's something to do with not requiring appropriate pre-A level physics to be taught as a separate discipline.

All those people who claim not to be interested in science: do you realise that once it's gone, it's gone, for ever? It's not something that we can buy back in if we decide "oops, I do so wish we were still able to comprehend the universe in a more empirical manner than is available via religious narrative". You kill it at school, you destroy the universities, and within a generation or two the entire ability will be gone for ever. I thought we were Conservatives? Whither the contract for the coming generations? Or is it OK that they'll be denied access to levels of education which we took as our right?

Tim Worrall

It's good to see a bit of non-reactionary sense written here recently.

Tony, what I want you to do is to leave your nice 'gells' wander out of your classroom, and down the road, say to Holland Park school. Go into a bottom set year 11 science lesson and tell the teacher and students your idea. What reaction do you think you might get?

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